Learning about Learning

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Tag: practitioner research (page 1 of 2)

Passion in Religious Education

Do we need to cultivate the inner spiritual life of our Jewish educators, as Aryeh Ben David claims? Certainly we do. But as Ziva Reimer Hassenfeld has argued in response, based on recent empirical research at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis, many teachers already bring a passion for Judaism to their teaching. Passion is not enough. What those teachers need, she continues, is “the professional development necessary to foster skilled, reflective practitioners.”

I agree with Ziva’s argument, but I’ve also been thinking recently about another aspect of the issue. Sometimes passion is not enough—but sometimes it is too much. When a teacher demonstrates passion, when a class seems to get drawn into a focus on the teacher’s persona, does that inevitably threaten the boundaries between teacher and student? Does it interfere with learning? Is it simply too dangerous? Continue reading

Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens

This post is by Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman, editors of Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens, which emerged from the Learning to Read Talmud project. It is excerpted from Ancient Jew Review.

downloadWe are witnessing an intensification of interest in the study of Talmudic literature in North America, not only in the larger Jewish community but also within the academy. Yet, study of what it means to learn to read Talmud – how teachers teach and how students learn to read – lags far behind this growing interest. Recognizing this gap, we gathered together a group of devoted academics who teach Talmud in universities and seminaries and, under the sponsorship of the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, embarked on a collaborative effort to study what it means to teach our students to read Talmud. Our book, Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens, presents a series of eight focused classroom studies written by professors of talmudic literature who were asked to respond to two questions:

1. What does it mean to read Talmud in your particular classroom?

2. What does this reading look like when it happens?

Grounded in the scholarship of both rabbinic literature and practitioner inquiry, Learning to Read Talmud is a rare undertaking that uniquely bridges the worlds of academic Talmud and the study of pedagogy. It contributes to the growing field of the scholarship of teaching and learning. While most academics spend an enormous amount of time teaching, our institutions do not always recognize that teaching should be—and often is—an academic endeavor that involves critical study and analysis. Much as we write about the Talmud itself, we pay far less attention to the significance and contribution of writing about our teaching. With our book, Learning to Read Talmud, we aim to expand the research agendas of Talmudists to include scholarship on the teaching of rabbinic literature. As academic Talmudists—“insiders”—with a broad and nuanced understanding of both what the Talmud is and the vast range of approaches useful for reading it, we believe that professors of Talmud are uniquely reflective researchers of their teaching and the learning processes of their students. We are well-positioned to contribute both to the field of rabbinics and to the field of pedagogy. As articulated by K. Patricia Cross and Mimi Harris Steadman, “Teachers who know their discipline and the problems of teaching it to others are in the best position to make systematic observations and to conduct ongoing investigations into the nature of learning and the impact of teaching upon it.”[1] Learning to Read Talmud is thus rooted in the many research traditions that define us as Talmudists. The eight case studies included in this book describe the types of teaching and learning that emerge from the very nature of the Talmudic text itself. They not only present examples of an array of teaching techniques but also offer insight into how one teaches for different reading results as dependent on the different contexts in which professors find themselves.

Dr. Jane Kanarek is Associate Professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew College.
Dr. Marjorie Lehman is Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Read the full post: http://www.ancientjewreview.com/articles/2017/1/3/learning-to-read-talmud-bridging-scholarship-and-pedagogy

[1] K. Patricia Cross and Mimi Harris Steadman, Classroom Research: Implementing the Scholarship of Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996), xviii.

A Collaboration of the Field and the Academy

By Charlotte Abramson and Rabbi Sheryl Katzman

Building on 13 years of experience designing standards-based curriculum in TaNaKH, the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks Project (now the Legacy Heritage Instructional Leadership Institute) of the William Davidson School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, launched the Rabbinics Initiative to develop a compendium of standards and benchmarks for the teaching and learning of rabbinics. We began the process at our February 2014 advisory board meeting entitled A Collaboration of the Academy and the Field.

We brought together teachers, scholars and the leadership of the day school associations. Practitioners shared experience from the classroom and their knowledge of children. They represented schools from grades K-12 and a broad spectrum of religious affiliations. By design, they pushed the group to see the faces of diverse learners. Scholars from the fields of Jewish education and rabbinic literature supported the work and ensured that we remained authentic to the disciplines of rabbinics and education.

Inviting Jewish education scholars created a bridge between the field and the academy that had immediate impact on the work of developing standards and benchmarks for Jewish Day Schools.  Inspired by their participation in the Rabbinics Initiative, the Davidson School and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University launched a partnership to develop a research project, Students’ Understanding of Rabbinics. The project brought the experiences of students to the forefront of our deliberation in new and invaluable ways during the writing and initial implementation phases of our work. During the initial writing phase, the voices of the students represented in the study helped us develop criteria to select which standards to develop. Those voices reminded the pilot schools to place student at the center when selecting standards to guide the development of their curriculum.

We had some trepidation about sharing this research with our schools. Continue reading

Sharon Feiman-Nemser’s Impact and Influence

This guest post is by Susan Kardos, Senior Director of Strategy and Education Planning at The AVI CHAI Foundation and a research associate at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard University. She was the Mandel Center’s first post-doctoral fellow.

This essay is drawn in part from a summary of the work of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers presented by Susan Moore Johnson and her research team at Harvard in May, and in part from a presentation given during a session called “Teachers as Learners: a Discussion Honoring the Contributions of Sharon Feiman-Nemser to Jewish Education,” at the Network for Research in Jewish Education conference in June.  The author participated in both.

A little more than fifteen years ago, as a doctoral student at Harvard, I came to know Sharon Feiman-Nemser, first, as a peppering of citations. I got to know her better when I was charged with creating an annotated bibliography of sources related to my interest in new teachers in public schools. It was then I read everything—article after article, chapter after chapter, book after book—and wrote summaries that would become the basis for the literature review in my thesis. Sharon’s work about teacher preparation and learning to teach was an early foundational reference for the work of The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, a Harvard-based research project addressing critical questions about the future of the nation’s public school teaching force. Sharon’s work featured especially prominently in my contributions to the project, which focused specifically on  the kinds of professional cultures new teachers’ experience in their schools, especially related to collegial support, mentoring, and induction—all Feiman-Nemser specialties.

At the same time, and a world away from my thesis work, I was pursuing a line of research related to underground schools in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust and feeling a stronger and stronger pull toward building a professional home in the world of Jewish education. Imagine my surprise to find that one of my intellectual heroes was not only looking for a post-doctoral research fellow locally, at Brandeis, but was herself crossing the border to make her professional home in the world of Jewish education.

Continue reading

Torah-Centered Judaism and the Rabbinics Classroom

This guest post, by Rabbi Joshua Cahan, is reprinted with permission from eJewish Philanthropy.

If you are a Jewish educator looking to teach Talmud outside of the Orthodox world, you will probably end up teaching high school. Outside of seminaries, high school students spend more hours a week studying Jewish texts, and are more likely to study them in the original, than any other group in the US. This makes the Jewish high school an ideal setting for a rich conversation about what in-depth Jewish learning should look like in the non-Orthodox world. It is a setting that demands real answers to the question that bedevils visions of our communal future: what precisely is the Jewish content that should fill in our vague dedication to Jewish Continuity? Continue reading

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